The war between fossil fuels and renewable energy is very real when it comes to their respective environmental impact. But it may no longer be an ‘all or nothing’ situation. Rather than completely replacing coal-fired power plants with wind or solar energy plants, General Electric aims to combine the two by capturing carbon dioxide emissions from coal power plants and using it to create enormous solar batteries. Sounds a little crazy, but could it be the best of both worlds?
Right now, the concept is still in the very early phases of testing, but it makes a lot of sense. GE’s proposal involves using solar power from mirrors to heat salt similar to the procedures used at the Ivanpah solar plant which opened in 2014 in California. Captured CO2 pollution—which has been cooled to a solid dry ice state and stored underground—is then warmed by the heated salt to a “supercritical” state, somewhere between a gas and solid, which makes it possible to turn a “sunrotor” that GE has already built a prototype for.
The CO2-powered sunrotor would generate extra energy when needed to meet peak demands, but can also be connected to batteries to store the electricity for later use. GE says the sunrotor, which fits on an office desk shelf, is capable of “generating as much as 100 megawatts of “fast electricity” per installed unit—enough to power 100,000 U.S. homes.”
GE says this idea wouldn’t apply only to coal-fired power plants. It could work for gas-burning plants as well, where wasted heat could be reused for a similar purpose. The developers are working on scaling up the prototype for use on a grid scale, with the idea that the massive amounts of energy generated with the recycled byproducts of fossil fuel power plants and stored in batteries could be used to reduce the outputs of those power plants, thereby reducing overall carbon emissions production.